When the weather can change the political climate
``Everywhere you go, always take the weather with you,’’ goes the much loved Crowded House song.
But if you’re in politics, it’s more often the weather which takes you and its colossal force can sweep you away.
Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott should remember this because climate and climate related politics have shaped many a political turn over the years.
It is not a new thing. In fact, the nation was born during the great Federation Drought of the late 1890s which inevitably moulded the economy and politics at the time.
More recently in 1983, Malcolm Fraser’s seven year government fell on the back of a bad drought which, like our more recent experience, was punctuated by ferocious and deadly bushfires.
The drought helped drive unemployment and inflation unacceptably high. Of course, the real weather was not the only factor. By his own assessment, Bob Hawke was a force of nature. But just as the harsh summer winds had fanned the Ash Wednesday fires, Fraser faced an electoral headwind robbing him of momentum.
Twenty four years later, the weather helped another of Labor’s ascendant stars, Kevin Rudd.
Unlike Fraser, John Howard could point to a strong economy but it was not enough. Another prolonged drought was this time attributed to climate change. Harsh water restrictions prevailed in the suburbs. Parched lawns became a potent symbol as Kevin Rudd cast the government as out of touch with what others viewed as obvious.
With the value of hindsight, Howard’s actions in response to climate change were reasonably substantial. Take the 2007 Water Act for example. While the Gillard Government has stopped short of making changes, it has if anything, looked to ratchet-down the environment-first provisions in the act. And don’t forget that John Howard went to the 2007 election fully committed to an emissions trading scheme. But it was all too late. The political wind had turned.
It was ironic then, that it was also the climate - although this time, the politics of climate - that de-masted Kevin Rudd’s leader-ship less than a term later.
Rudd’s cynical abandonment of emissions trading as his political raison d’etre, left the government adrift in a sea of doubt.
And through all of this the drought continued, making Rudd’s climate equivocations seem all the more detached from reality.
Which brings us to the present where the argument over the flood levy is the latest heady combo of politics and weather.
Here the dark clouds bode most ill for Tony Abbott. Why? Because, Julia Gillard is odds-on to get her $1.8 billion levy through. She has already secured the support of the two independents: WA National, Tony Crook, and renegade former Nat, Bob Katter. Katter said he was ``boxed in’’ and in the end, could not stand between his cyclone-devastated constituents and vital Commonwealth assistance.
The other independents may be further removed but they face essentially the same equation.
Tony Abbott however, is boxed in too. He banked everything on casting the levy as a new tax. But like the weather that brought these tragedies about, public sentiment is not easily directed. A recent Newspoll showed 55 per cent of people support it. And having promised a levy of his own to pay for a generous paid parental leave scheme, even his opposition on principle is shaky.
The Newspoll kicked off what turned out to be a rough week for Mr Abbott made worse when it emerged his (largely unnecessary) alternative savings measures relied mainly on deferrals rather than cuts; did not nearly match the levy in the 2011/12 year (the shortfall is around $1 billion); and involved cutting an anti-terrorism aid program in Indonesia started by the Howard Government. That idea caused an internal rift with his deputy and foreign affairs spokeswoman, Julie Bishop, the full ramifications of which are not yet known.
For Julia Gillard though, it will not be straight forward. Greens and independents are upset at the axeing of carbon abatement programs. Ms Gillard says a carbon price will be a better way to address climate change. But that is a big leap and relies on getting a carbon price in place this year which will not be easy. Not least because it lacks political legitimacy after being expressly ruled out by Ms Gillard before the election.
The lesson is that while you can’t change the weather, you can certainly get your responses to it wrong.
Cartoon by Jon Kudelka - www.kudelka.com.au
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@mooks83 sophisticated response. Think the kids parents saw it differently
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